Last minute WISP challenge kills FTTH for two California towns

14 January 2016 by Steve Blum
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No gigabit for you.

It’s still called the Five Mining Communities broadband project, but only three will be getting fiber to the home service, assuming the California Public Utilities Commission approves a $2 million California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) grant as currently drafted at its meeting tomorrow.

Race Telecommunications will get the money to build out in Randsburg, Johannesburg, and Red Mountain, near the junction of Inyo, San Bernardino and Kern counties. But neighboring Trona and Searles Valley are off the list, because of a last minute challenge from a wireless Internet service provider, SBC Wireless, who just popped up in town…

[CPUC] staff followed up with SBC-Wireless and was told that SBC-Wireless began operations in the area in late October 2015, has eight employees, and as of November 20, 2015 has 142 residential customers signed up for service. Working with Staff, the company subsequently began participation in the State Broadband Mapping data submission program, and submitted several speed tests from the Trona/Searles Valley area. As a result of this new data, Race removed the Trona/Searles Valley area from the Five Mining Communities Project.

SBC’s challenge was filed in mid-November, less than a month after it claims to have begun operations. Race’s application, on the other hand, was filed a year before, in December 2014. It took all that time to review it and in the process a determination was correctly made that there were no broadband competitors that met minimum standards anywhere in the area.

It costs a lot of money to prepare and defend a CASF grant application, partly because the review process takes such a long time. Details of where the project will be built are publicly posted, giving any wireless cowboy a chance to squash it by investing less money, potentially, than the applicant’s out of pocket costs. And do it a year later.

That’s not fair to the applicants or to the people who live there. Residents of the three lucky towns will be able to buy symmetrical 25 Mbps service for $25 a month (and a gigabit for $100). Those in Trona and Searles Valley, though, will have to shell out $90 a month for 7 Mbps down/2 Mbps up service.

There’s no question of fairness to the WISP. If you know that a grant application has been filed and you enter the market anyway, the risk on is you.

CPUC commissioners get the final say this morning. The right thing to do would be to send it back for one more revision and put Trona and Searles Valley back in the game.